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Queens lawmakers call on city to terminate contract housing Rikers detainees at Fresh Meadows hotel

Queens Wyndham Hotel
The Wyndham Hotel in Fresh Meadows (Photo via Google Maps)

Four Queens lawmakers are calling on the city to terminate its contract with the Wyndham Hotel in Fresh Meadows, which has been used to house more than 100 released detainees from Rikers Island during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Last week, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic and Councilwoman Linda Lee sent a letter to Mayor Eric Adams and to New York City Comptroller Brad Lander demanding the contract be terminated and the hotel return to its original use. 

In the spring of 2020, without any notification or consultation, the city moved Rikers inmates as a precaution against COVID-19 into the Wyndham Hotel, located at 61-27 186th St., which is located in the lawmakers’ districts. 

“Everything about this process has been opaque — from the siting of the venue, the choosing of the vendor, the increases of millions of dollars for the contract or even how long the city planned to use this site,” the lawmakers said in the letter.

In March 2020, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) was working with the Office of Emergency Management to provide secure and stable housing to those leaving the city’s jail system without a place to stay. A nonprofit organization called Exodus Transitional Community is under a city contract to provide wraparound services, including case management, job placement, meals and assistance finding permanent housing. 

While she supports the mission of Exodus Transitional Community, Rozic said the arrangement and the city’s lack of oversight have been too disorderly for far too long. 

“Let’s be clear: this program was operating under a false security company and a sexual assault was alleged during that time. This is the last straw,” Rozic said. 

Local elected officials were initially informed that the hotel’s continued use would be temporary and the program would end concurrently with the state of emergency created by the pandemic.               

Last month, a series of reports by the news outlet THE CITY exposed that a participant of the program alleges she was sexually assaulted by an Exodus employee. The reports also shared findings that the program was operating with an unlicensed security vendor operating illegally. This led to criminal charges being referred to the state attorney general and the Queens district attorney. 

In response, Adams ordered a review of all pandemic emergency contracts and last week Lander rejected the $40 million renewal of the contract, asking the mayor’s office to resubmit a new contract.  

Based on these revelations, the end of the state of emergency, and New York City’s commitment that this housing arrangement would be temporary, the elected officials believe now would be the best time to terminate the contract.

Stavisky applauded Lander for rejecting the most recent renewal of the contract. 

“This process has not been transparent from the beginning and it has led to a number of unfortunate events,” Stavisky said. “The residents of Fresh Meadows deserve better and the city needs to keep their promise to the community.” 

According to Meng, the renewal of the contract at the Wyndham Hotel directly prevents residents of Fresh Meadows from living in a safe neighborhood. 

“Comptroller Lander knew the danger this renewal could have on the community and was smart to oppose it. Although the contract is still in place through the end of June this year, I encourage the mayor and his administration to void it in order to keep the Fresh Meadows community safe,” Meng said. 

Before she took office to represent Council District 23 in eastern Queens, Lee said she heard from the community about the problems that have plagued the Wyndham Hotel from the beginning. 

“If run with transparency and proper community engagement, this program could have helped keep people safe during the pandemic. However, the latest news has irreparably damaged what little trust is left in our neighborhood,” Lee said. “The fact that the security company Wyndham had promised the community was a fraudulent enterprise is unconscionable.”

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